Paul Thomas Anderson is a modern cinephile’s golden child, an auteur whose body of work has inspired millions over more than 25 years. Much of his recent work—including There Will Be Blood and Inherent Vice—delves into complex themes and uses the stories’ historical settings to offer commentary on the mood and environment of people at the time.
His most recent film, Licorice Pizza, is centered around a miniature story of first love. Anderson masterfully presents this lovable tale within the vast urban playground of 1970s Los Angeles.
The Christmas release follows two characters—photography assistant Alana Kane (Alana Haim) and high school student Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman)—as they make silly, immature mistakes. After an overconfident but charming Gary asks Alana out on a date, she hesitantly agrees.
The 10-year age gap between the two creates a sense of awkwardness that drives a lot of the film’s tension, but it keeps the characters together as they defend their relationship against people’s judgements. Anderson displays their strange relationship as comedic rather than creepy or uncomfortable.
The film elevates their story of young love and infatuation by utilizing slow motion and dramatic lighting to create a sense of theatricality. Costumes by Mark Bridges, a score by Jonny Greenwood, and editing by Andy Jurgensen add to the film’s dream-like feel.
Jurgensen expertly edits several moments of silence between characters—knowing exactly when to cut back and forth between shots of each character—which emphasizes the awkwardness of young love. In one scene, Gary musters up the courage to call Alana but is too nervous to say anything once she picks up the phone. The silence is captivating.
Making their feature film debuts, Haim and Hoffman delivered flawless performances alongside experienced players such as Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, and Tom Waits add to the sun-soaked joyride that is Licorice Pizza.
Just as it is a delight for audiences to watch, Anderson’s passion is obvious as he crafts a beautifully nostalgic and jubilant film. Having grown up in L.A. in the 70s, Anderson creates the exuberance that audiences can see oozing out of each frame. Licorice Pizza is a film that is both big and small, layered and simple, and it is this dual nature that makes the film both heartfelt and fun to watch.
Featured Image Courtesy of Focus Features